Inmate Pen Pals

Why would you write an inmate pen pal, and where would you start the correspondence with one? Find out right here.

Why Should I Even Consider Writing an Inmate?

Many people are not aware of how dire the situation is in a relatively large part of the penitentiary institutions in the USA. In part due to under funding and under staffed facilities. True, those incarcerated are there to do their time, pay their debt to society. And that doesn't mean each cell should be a hotel room with room service. But the cries that reach those who are listening, are horrid ones.

People with severe psychological problems (Self-mutilation, schizophrenia) can be found among the regular inmate population, instead of receiving the proper mental and medical care. Besides this, sometimes the sewers overflow, leaving a big health hazard on whole ranges. Rodents can and do come up via the wc's. And on more than one occasion, people have perished while in "The Hole", which is prison slang for solitary confinement. There are alarm buttons, should there be an emergency.

However, these buttons are disabled from time to time, causing people to die from heart attacks or suicides, while the neighbouring cell's inhabitant can do nothing but hear the other die.

So, in the midst of all this, one fights for his/her life and sanity, surviving by the minute rather than by day. And also: The best way to learn how to commit crimes where you won't get caught is in jail. Life becomes nothing but sheer survival. And some honestly do believe -and actually wind themselves in a situation where- no one really cares. The outside world becomes a place, which is hostile to them: bottom line, society has spit them out. For those who do get released after a period of time, this frame of mind means everything but rehabilitation. So these people are sent out into a world in which they fend for themselves as in prison, with the feeling society owed them. The debt is reversed and it is far more easily to fall back into crime than get a job and a "normal" life.

This, is where the letters come in. Someone from the outside reaches out a hand, straight through the prison bars, and touches the person on the other side of them. A stranger lets go of stereotypes and is willing to listen, willing to care, willing to befriend. And there, can rest the entire difference. And not just for the inmate. The one who corresponds from the outside, is often granted a more empathic and understanding view of the world, and their own lives in general. Counting blessings like their family, their friends. They learn, and broaden a horizon they might not have even known existed.

If you're still thinking, "They're not in there just because they picked their nose in public. They committed felonies!", then yes, you're right. They're doing time for the mistakes that they made at an earlier stage. This author is not about to say people shouldn't repent, pay their debt to society and whatnot. But this correspondence can be an essential part of rehabilitation. Would you rather have an inmate who, straight out of jail, goes and steals from your granny, or one who goes out to get a job? YOU can make that difference.

But Is It Absolutely Safe?

That, in part, is in your court. You can take safety measures, to any extent: Take a P.O. box or write under an alias, if that makes you more comfortable. Some people start writing under a fictitious name but let the inmate know about this. Later on they revealed their own name, once a trust and friendship was established. Although this author doesn't recommend this. Some chose to, with in particular people who corresponded with death row inmates. But this does create a gap right from the beginning. Think twice.

Decide whether or not to send pictures of yourself or your family. In whatever case, do not do favours involving moneyorders unless you know exactly what's going on. Sometimes these are used to launder money, so be careful. Decide whether or not you want this person to have your home phone number. Note: You might have a close friendship with an inmate, and trust him with everything. BUT, it is a jail; there are a whole lot of criminals all thrown together in a small space. Address books, letters and envelopes can be stolen, as photos and other things can be.

So if you receive a letter from an inmate saying he got the address off your friend, verify this first. Keep that in mind. When someone starts making you uncomfortable, get out, quit the correspondence and don't be persuaded by begging or emotional blackmail: give in once to someone you are not comfortable with, and they'll know you'll give in again.

Do not let yourself be manipulated: if you know you are easily controlled by another person, think before you get into this. And especially to the women out there, be sure you are over 20 or 21. This author started at a young age and was lucky to write with a decent guy. I have met a few who weren't on the up and up. If you're young, or you're at a vulnerable point of your life(grieving or recovering of something), think again. This isn't easy. You have to be able to depend on those around you, for support in what you do.

Also, if you are writing to someone of the opposite sex, (or, in some cases, same sex), there is a very real chance that an inmate will become romantically interested in you. It pays off to -in your very first letter- let someone know you are not in this for romantic reasons, or are in a relationship already, with no intentions to break that off. With mutual respect, this will be understood.

So What Now? Where Do I Start?

If you are sure you want to do this, these are a few places to find inmates who want to correspond. I know Inside-Outside, a Dutch organisation, has a lot of people on file. Because they are a non-profit organisation, they have some difficulty finding people who'll write the many inmates in the USA and other countries. Mainly because they don't have the money to advertise.

They'll ask for a modest contribution from people on the outside(free to inmates) for the postage and possible newsletter, but no more than reasonable. These are volunteers, and they have to get their equipment, updates/magazines from somewhere to be of the best of service to their members. This is is a good place to start, if you're interested. Even without being sure about writing, you might want to ask them for their information. Since the volunteers all have experience in this correspondence, they are happy to help and answer any questions you might have.

(Stichting) Inside-Outside

Postbus 1599

9701 BN Groningen

The Netherlands

Online, inmates can be found at many different sites. Most of them do not ask for a contribution, but hint at donations or clicking on their sponsor's banner. This of course is NOT something you have to do. In general, most addresses are free. They just take a bit of searching on the Internet to find. The best list for these sites, or rather, the most complete, is found at Yahoo. However, do remember that anyone can write these men and women: it could be that an inmate has had two or three responses before yours, and since some have a limited amount of stamps per week, this might already be too much. That is also why I recommend Inside-Outside instead, to start at. They will give you one or more addresses, of people who are waiting for that response from YOU.

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